Pansch injured, Rams inch toward North Division title
The game went blithely on, like nothing important happened.
But the most important moment in Shepherd’s ever-grinding baseball season had just occurred.
Last Saturday’s first game of a conference doubleheader was scoreless and in the top of the fourth inning. Notre Dame (Ohio) was the opponent. Unbeaten (but not unscarred) righthander Ryan Pansch had just been solved for a single, only the second hit he had yielded.
Pansch delivered a pitch to Zach Santoro and took the return throw from his catcher. And in a brief, hold-your-breath instant, out of the Shepherd dugout strolled coach Anthony Jackson. And then Rams’ head coach Matt McCarty was at the mound conferring with Pansch.
The Shepherd trainer was next.
Pansch handed the baseball to Ryan Potts. And he ambled on off to the sidelines.
Nightmarish arm problems have basically haunted Pansch’s career at Shepherd.
After being an all-conference honoree as a freshman, he was gone after 2.2 innings as a sophomore and did not pitch at all in 2016.
Here in 2017, he is 7-0 with an ERA below three runs a game.
And with his injury-marred history, what are his chances of being available for the upcoming conference tournament next week?
Pansch is the only pitcher with any innings at all with an ERA lower than 4.05. Four wins are required to become the Mountain East Conference tournament winner.
Potts is capable. He could replace Pansch as a tournament starter, but he hasn’t pitched more than four innings in a game in 2017. John Bentley, Joe Rindone and AJ Stead are Shepherd’s other starters of note. Other than those four hurlers, Shepherd has a dearth of talent in middle relief or as a closer.
After quickly warming up on the field, Potts yielded two hits and two runs scored.
Then he got three outs, wasn’t scored on in the next two innings and left.
Shepherd had no valid reason to win. The Rams left runners all over the bases, eventually stranding 13 in the eight innings it took to find Notre Dame winning, 4-2. Outfielder Ron Farley left the bases loaded in the first, stranded two more in the fifth and left two more runners aboard in the seventh when the Rams had already tied it at 2-2 and had the winning run at third.
Thirteen runners stranded in only eight innings. Pansch injured. And an extra-inning loss to a team that came in with a 15-29 record.
Shepherd would not lose any ground to its pursuers because it won the nightcap, 15-0, and West Liberty and Fairmont State split their doubleheader.
The Rams had a seven-run inning for pitcher John Bentley and added an eight-run frame later on to leave the humidity-drenched afternoon with a 1-1 record on the day.
Brenton Doyle had three hits, Jacob Carney was on base four times, Brandon Kirk had three hits, JJ Sarty homered and drove in three runs and Chase Hoffman also homered.
Bentley allowed only two hits to the Falcons, who managed just six base runners against him in the seven-inning game.
It was two innings of loud, offensive noise for the Rams . . . but it was the quiet moment back in Game One that resonated the loudest in the Shepherd scheme of things.